Ars Technica takes an inside look at a small fiber network in a subdivision in Washington State: "Tale of the Trench: What if your Subdivision laid its own Fiber?" The author makes a valid point in noting that not all community fiber networks offer the best speeds in the country. However, I do take issue with any suggestion that these experiences are reflective of most community networks. The scale of this network is tiny -- resulting both in unique problems and common problems greatly exacerbated.
Issaquah Highlands is a planned community east of Seattle that offers FTTH to residents while essentially assessing them for it whether they use it or not. In this neighborhood, broadband is treated like water service, with the exception that residents can pay their FTTH fee but also pay to get service from a cable or telephone company instead.
The cost of implementing a community-owned network prevents most neighborhoods from building their own networks, and it's the main reason why all Issaquah Highlands residents are required to subscribe to the service. The cost of initial buildout was in the millions of dollars and was financed to be paid off over several decades. Once the network is paid off, ownership will be transferred from the builder, Port Blakely, to the community association. However, the community has a strong leadership position on the HFN board even while the builder owns the fiber.
Port Blakely at first contracted with a small Internet provider to build and operate the network, but this ISP quickly collapsed due to financial issues. Port Blakely then contracted with a Seattle-area ISP to operate the network and provide Internet service over the physical infrastructure. This step can be harder than one might expect; there aren’t many options left when it comes to standalone ISPs. Back in the days of dial-up, we had a thriving market in the US, but the proliferation of DSL and cable Internet service provided by whoever owns the wires means that most smaller ISPs have folded. While serving on the HFN board, I always knew that we would have problems replacing our local ISP if that became necessary.
The author was on the advisory board of the network and offers frank assessments of their difficulties - despite romanticizing the support offered by massive carriers like Comcast (see the comments for multiple people discussing their experiences with massive companies vs. smaller ones). The simple fact is that being small does not mean an ISP will provide better service... but they are tyipically under greater pressure to meet the needs of their subscribers.
Unsurprisingly, cable television was a giant headache to deal with.
The biggest success of the network was its broadband speeds - which consistently provided what was advertised unlike the massive DSL and cable companies.
Pitfalls aside, 99 percent of the time (when the network was up and running) HFN was phenomenal. Internet speeds were delivered as promised and never with the infamous "up to" rating that cable companies are notorious for. If data moved slower than our plan’s speed, it was because of a clog in the Internet’s tubes or limitations of the servers we were transferring data from. Not only were the speeds lightning fast, connection latency was much lower than any cable or DSL customer would expect. In many cases, I would see latency around 50ms and recall playing games where the latency was so low it was simply reported as 0ms.
With so much bandwidth at my disposal, streaming 1080p HD content without ever seeing a buffer delay became normal and I was quick to pick up every new Internet gadget, knowing that my connection could handle it. As a part-time photographer, I was also moving gigabytes of photos up and down the network on a regular basis, and doing so in mere minutes.